Photograph by Scott Hess
Leaves of class: A cancer survivor, Ecobabe Camila is now in her first year at Cornell. She says, 'I study Walt Whitman and wonder about the world.'
What's so sexy about saving the earth?
By Gretchen Giles
As far as Ann Hancock is concerned, the idea was literally all around her. As president of the Climate Protection Campaign (CPC), a nonprofit based in the western Sonoma County wilds of Graton, Hancock is used to being surrounded by interns and volunteers. But what she noticed last year was that, without exception, all of the interns and volunteers busying themselves in her office were beautiful. And young.
To wit, they were babes.
"We kept wondering, 'Why are all these beautiful women with us, and what can we do about it?'" Hancock laughs merrily, seated in the upstairs offices of the CPC, housed in Graton's Atelier One mixed-use warehouse space.
Hancock, who taught human sexuality at Humboldt State University at an earlier point in her life (she also used to be a real estate broker), figured that beautiful women love the earth just the way that all of us love the earth and beautiful women. "The same things that makes us love the earth makes us love each other," she echoes.
Hancock's even written an article on the subject, "Sexy Sustainability," in which she argues that the three main taboos about sex in Western society are the same constraints that keep the general public from lustily embracing the environmental movement. We're grossly uninformed about both topics, she says; we have the same senseless taboos about the roles of politics and capitalism as we do about frank sexual discussion; and fear, shame and guilt form a relentless troika in the bedroom as in the boardroom.
And so with the same sanguine attitude and focused attention that's helped make Sonoma County's CPC a model for the rest of the nation, Hancock set out to marry the very sexy and the very sustainable in a unique fundraiser for her nonprofit: Ecobabes, a 2007 calendar. Featuring 12 Sonoma County women, many of them indeed former CPC volunteers and interns, the calendar's glossy, high-design pages showcase a different concept ("Local," "Global," "Mindful") and a large four-color photo of a mostly clad female figure. Shot by Petaluma photographer Scott Hess and designed by the international team Hello SF--who work across the hall from the CPC and just happen to have created all of Apple's packaging as well as the OS X desktop, a full line of Swatch products and, oh, just a few campaigns for the Banana Republic--Ecobabes is, to many, tasteful and fun.
What's been most rollicking for Hancock are the few unusual suspects who don't see it that way. There are the local booksellers who reportedly rejected the calendar as being "cheesy and salacious," refusing to carry it in their otherwise progressive store. But most of all, there's been Hancock's new idol, Northcoast Environmental Center office manager Alisha Clompus, who refused to allow her Arcata-based group to sell the calendar in its boutique. That led the San Francisco Chronicle to give the Ecobabes front-page status and an online poll (out of 611 respondents, 63 percent clicked off on "If it bothers you, don't buy it"), which in turn prompted a Chico radio station to host a two-hour talk show on the topic, which for its part has lead to great big swadges of free publicity for Ecobabes and the CPC.
"The best reaction," Hancock smiles, "is, 'This is hilarious!'"
Women taking it off for fundraising calendars is hardly a shocking new phenomenon. Locally, the horsewomen of Novato have been doing it to great huzzahs for years, and such a radical notion was pioneered in part by English society matrons whose story eventually became a movie starring Helen Mirren, but could just have easily been enacted by Camilla Parker-Bowles.
Frankly, the 12 activists who posed as Ecobabes hardly take it off. With the exception of Bonny (no last names were used, to ward off potential eco-stalkers), who appears to be nude but stands silhouetted against a clean linen sheet hanging on a line--dryers are eco-bad!--the women wear street clothes and sports clothes and are photographed biking, lying lushly amid produce, standing in front of solar panels or at a water's edge. Pornographer Larry Flynt would be terribly disappointed.
"If this is controversial, great," Hancock says. "We want to make people feel like it's something that they can be a part of."
Inclusion lies at the heart of Hancock's cunning plan. For at least a generation, she says, the environmental movement has been mostly successful at scaring people. And frightened folks emulate ostriches better than they do eco-warriors. "The global climate change message is changing," she says. "We've been yammering on about the same situation for the last 20 years. Yet we've been apathetic and in despair as a people. Most people are terrified and don't even want to listen. Do you give them more to frighten them? No. Because what's the reaction? 'Sorry, I'd rather watch the game.'"
The CPC uses a Matrix-like campaign to cajole and soften, featuring a poster of suit-clad activists in dark glasses lined up à la Keanu Reeves above the tag-line, "Climate protection--it's not a job for the weak."
"These are the ways that we're working to bring our ideas into the public consciousness," Hancock says.
"Besides," she concludes, offering a sly smile, "People who protect the climate are very sexy."
To purchase an Ecobabes calendar, go to www.ecobabes.org. To learn more about the Climate Protection Campaign, go to www.climateprotectioncampaign.org.
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